This week, one of the most infamous of disinformation stories in the pro-Kremlin echo-chamber made it back to the headlines: the tragedy of flight MH17. As we have shown before, some key disinformation narratives often come back after a time in the shadows. And, as we have also highlighted before, pro-Kremlin disinformation often follows certain patterns which we can see again in this case.
This time round, we learn that some new documents supposedly prove that it was the Ukrainian Secret Service that was responsible for the downing of the plane – another one of the many theories spread by pro-Kremlin outlets. Yet the whole process of planting the story, echoing it and multiplying it by state-owned media shows typical signs of a state-sponsored active measure. For example, this “scoop” was first presented in a small pro-Kremlin paper, then, after being translated into English, travelled to hundreds of websites prone to conspiracy theories, pro-Kremlin narratives and anti-establishment stories. In the course of 3 days, the article was translated into 24 languages before it landed on the main pro-Kremlin outlet Sputnik, presented as a question rather than a statement. For a track record of Sputnik’s skills in investigative journalism, see this.
Also a Czech outlet claimed this week that the downing of the plane was a false flag operation designed to discredit Russia. This is again a favourite claim aimed at sowing confusion, which we’ve identified before. Now, Bellingcat has presented further evidence to support their conclusion about the truth regarding MH17.
Provoking tension in Ukraine
Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, pro-Kremlin disinformation has been a paramount instrument for the Russia-backed separatists and for Russia itself. And it remains very much an effective tool to provoke tension in the country. This week, we saw disinformation claiming that Hungarians living in the Ukrainian region of Transcarpathia were declaring autonomy and that the Ukrainian Security Service was detaining and persecuting the activists involved. The disinformation was even supported by faked signs. However, the whole incident has been denied by the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Ukraine through an official statement, condemning it as “a provocation against the Hungarian community”.
This is not the first time that disinformation has been deployed concerning ethnic minorities in Ukraine. StopFake has put together a list of previously debunked stories about alleged regional minority autonomy demands, including Polish, Romanian, Gagauz and Crimean Tatar minorities in Ukraine.
Disinformation cases reported in the previous week